- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Oct. 14

News Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, on state’s beer battles:

Big Beer appears to have blinked.

For two years, a legislative battle in Florida has brewed between large distributors of mainstream beer and small, craft beer creators. The corporate types have opposed efforts to allow microbreweries to sell their products onsite in take-home jugs, called growlers, of certain sizes. The current law permits 32-ounce and 128-ounce growlers, but not the most popular size - 64 ounces - as is allowed in 47 other states.

The law is a vestige of Prohibition-era regulations that created a three-tier structure of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. But as society has evolved and consumer tastes have changed, the old rules have become outdated. The popularity of craft beers and the growth in microbreweries have threatened to erode the market share of mainstream ales and lagers, such as Budweiser and Miller.

Bloomberg Businessweek reports that sales of domestic light beers nationwide are expected to hit a 10-year low in 2015. Meanwhile, craft beer sales are increasing. There were 66 craft breweries in Florida last year, up from 50 in 2012. Persimmon Hollow in Deland on Saturday became the fourth microbrewery to open in Volusia County in the last two years.

Thus, Big Beer has used the regulatory structure to protect entrenched economic interests. Since 2013 it has thwarted legislative attempts to give microbreweries more freedom to distribute their products directly to customers by cutting out the middlemen. In this year’s session, large beer distributors backed a bill that would have allowed microbreweries to offer 64-ounce growlers, but only if they first sold up to 2,000 kegs a year of their own beer to an established distributorship and then buy it back - at marked-up prices - before they could sell it to consumers for home consumption.

Most microbreweries said they could not survive financially under that arrangement, and the bill died. That was just fine with Big Beer, which benefits from maintaining the status quo.

However, late last week the Beer Industry of Florida, an association representing MillerCoors and other craft beer distributors, announced it was forming a coalition of distributors to support legislation allowing 64-ounce growlers - “no strings attached.”

This is potentially good news, and perhaps an indication that Big Beer’s political support in Tallahassee is slipping as microbreweries’ growth increases. The BIF makes nice with the microbrews by acknowledging the craft beer revolution “is here to stay” and that the Legislature needs to update Florida’s alcohol laws.

Nevertheless, the BIF also warned it doesn’t want to see “a return to the bad old days when totally unrestricted breweries sold to the public and even delivered to the home.” The group said it fears unregulated sales would produce a “beer bubble” that would hurt retail businesses and threaten public health.

That’s absurdly alarmist. It’s not the Legislature’s job to regulate markets for efficiency. Supply and demand will take care of that. And the claim that greater choices in craft beers could lead to “overconsumption and addiction” is dubious at best. Nothing currently prevents adults from purchasing a 24-pack of the cheap stuff at the nearest convenience store.

The BIF’s caveat could be a face-saving way to negotiate an anodyne provision in a growler bill that pays lip service to responsible consumption - or a back-door way to once again torpedo progressive alcohol regulations.

Still, the shift in tactics is a welcome indication that the little guy is gaining clout, and that Florida’s beer laws finally may reflect the 21st century.




Oct. 14

News Journal, Pensacola, Florida, on the Pope Francis and gay marriage:

Pay attention to this moment. This week alone stands as proud evidence of Western Civilization’s inevitable march toward freedom and equality. Collectively, we have resisted, fought, even slipped backward at times. But eventually, we are always shown that our faith in the rights of all men is not unfounded.

The New York Times reported Monday that “an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops convened by Pope Francis at the Vatican released a preliminary document on Monday calling for the church to welcome and accept gay people.”

In addition to urging acceptance of unmarried couples and those who have been divorced, the document says that gay people have “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” and acknowledges that gay couples can give each other “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” and “precious support in the life of the partners.”

This is a monumental indication that one of the most ancient, important and stalwart institutions in the world is moving in the philosophical course set forth by Pope Francis, which ultimately, is the foundational message of Jesus Christ.

Regardless of what faith you subscribe to, this shift under Pope Francis is hugely symbolic. These are ideas that would not have even been discussed in the Catholic Church 10 years ago. And while this single assembly won’t officially set church doctrine, it’s proof that even the buttressed fortifications of the Vatican are not impenetrable to the sweeping winds of equality.

Meanwhile, this same slide toward greater freedom is playing out in the secular realm here in the United States. Following the Supreme Court’s decision last week that effectively made same-sex marriage legal in 30 states, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi relented Monday night and asked the state Supreme Court to decide the issue here in the Sunshine State.

After a summer of appealing judicial defeats, Bondi asked the state’s highest court to withhold action until the U.S. Supreme Court could decide the issue. From Miami-Dade to Monroe County, lower-court judges found Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Now, Bondi is rightly ending the state’s costly and inevitably losing battle against a clear issue of individual rights. We’re glad Attorney General Bondi is finally getting out of the way.

It doesn’t require the pope’s infallibility to realize that secular government has no business dictating the lives of individuals by oppressing such a basic liberty. Besides, states and churches alike are wise to see that committed couples in any form strengthen society at its core. We need more families, not fewer; more freedom, not less.

That is the message of Pope Francis and the spirit of the legal changes sweeping through our state capitals. From our faith to our politics, pay attention to this moment in history.

It’s something to be proud of.




Oct. 14

Gainesville (Florida) Sun on reform:

Latandra Ellington’s family wants an explanation for how the 36-year-old Lowell Correctional Institution inmate died on Oct. 1, after she was put in solitary confinement as a protective measure because she complained to her family that one of the prison’s guards had threatened to kill her. So far, they have gotten no details; no explanation.

For Floridians, an even bigger question is how such a tragedy could happen under the noses of Department of Corrections officials who are scrambling to quell a far-reaching and growing scandal over inmate abuse - including nearly 200 suspicious-death investigations being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

How, in the wake of pronouncements by DOC Secretary Mike Crews that the problem is real and he is committed to ending the inmate abuse, as well as what critics call an internal culture of corruption and cover-ups, could another inexplicable death occur?

Crews seem to have responded proactively to the growing hue and cry, spurred by a series of Miami Herald articles about guard violence. He has promised crisis training for guards dealing with mentally ill inmates; launched a website so the public can track all inmate death investigations; ordered all future inmate deaths to be investigated by the FDLE; and promised to fire any agency personnel engaging in criminal behavior or violating department policy. He made good on the latter promise on Sept. 19 when he fired 32 DOC prison officers from around the state.

Now, though, Ellington’s family and the Florida NAACP have written U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for a federal investigation into Ellington’s death and the DOC in general. Certainly what is going on in the DOC goes beyond inmate abuse to human rights violations.

The examples are real - and repulsive. A mentally ill inmate is scalded to death when locked in a steaming hot shower stall because he defecated in his cell. Another inmate, who suffered a genetic blood disorder, begged for medical care and cursed a nurse who turned him down, was locked in his cell and showered with tear gas and pepper spray before he died on the cell floor.

Internally, help has been slow coming. When four DOC department investigators recognized a disturbing pattern of violence and ran into resistance from all sides, they filed a federal whistle-blower suit alleging they had been targeted for exposing criminal activity by guards and refusing to look the other way.

Surely the majority of DOC’s 23,000 employees are good, decent public servants, but there is no question the DOC culture needs overhauling, top to bottom. It all starts with accountability.

Now, Ellington’s death raises concerns about whether Crews’ message is being taken seriously within the DOC ranks. DOC, with a $2.4 billion budget, is the state’s largest agency. It has a long history of corruption scandals and inmate abuse dating back decades, but nothing like the dozens upon dozens of deaths now being classified as “suspicious.”

Crews appears to be trying to fix this broken agency, a massive undertaking. Gov. Rick Scott, meanwhile, has ignored the problem. It is time Crews had some back-up, governor.

Latandra Ellington’s death suggests the DOC has a long way to go to reform.



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